After dropping the first game of their Southeast American swing in Tampa Bay, the Oilers will look to rebound against the Florida Panthers.
1. After a season-high six-game winning streak in late January vaulted the Panthers into a playoff spot, they’ve fallen right back out thanks to a stretch in which they’ve won just two of their last eight games. Florida currently sits in 10th in the Eastern Conference, chasing the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic and a handful of Metro Division teams for a wild card spot.
2. Missing the playoffs would be a massive disappointment for the Panthers after the huge off-season that they had. Florida invested over $100 million in Sergei Bobrovsky, Anton Stralman, and Brett Connolly to push their bubble team over the top, but it hasn’t worked. The biggest issue for the Panthers has been Bobrovsky, who simply hasn’t played anywhere near the level of the ace goalie they expected when they signed him to a $70,000,000 deal.
3. After struggling through an injury-riddled 2015-16 season in Columbus, Bobrovsky had back-to-back-to-back excellent seasons for the Blue Jackets. He won his second-career Vezina Trophy in 2016-17 and he helped the Blue Jackets shock the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs last spring. All told, Bobrovsky posted a .922 save percentage over his last three seasons since his injury and went into free agency as easily the top goaltender on the market.
4. But Bobrovsky is yet another cautionary tale about the volatility of goaltenders. He has a .896 save percentage over the course of 44 games and has played a key role in the Panthers failing to live up to their potential. Florida ranks fifth in the league in goals for and 29th in goals against, and while their defence isn’t elite by any stretch, they shouldn’t be a bottom-dwelling team at keeping the puck out of the net.
5. Over Bobrovsky’s last four starts, he’s allowed 15 goals on 93 shots, good for a .839 save percentage. The Panthers, unsurprisingly, have lost all four of those games.
6. While Florida’s goaltending has been terrible this season, their offence has been lethal. As I said earlier, they rank fifth in the league in goals for, boasting one of the deepest groups of forwards in the league. The top trio of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Evgenii Dadonov leads the way with a combined 60 goals, followed by the second trio of Mike Hoffman, Vincent Trochek, and Brett Connolly, who have 47 gals combined. Florida also has had big contributions from bottom-six forwards Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari, who have 15 and 19 goals respectively.
7. Special teams could play a big role in the outcome of this game as both the Oilers and Panthers are deadly on the power-play. The Oilers, of course, own the league’s best power-play at 29.6 percent, but the Panthers rank eighth in the league with a 22.4 percentage. The difference here, though, is the mismatch on the penalty kill. While Edmonton also has an effective penalty kill, Florida has one of the league’s worst, operating at a 77.4 percent efficiency.
8. It’ll be interesting to see how Dave Tippett decides to operate with Zack Kassian now out of the lineup. The Oilers are now rolling without any players from their top line as Kassian is suspended and both Connor McDavid and James Neal are on the Injured Reserve. Tyler Benson is currently with the team, though he didn’t play in Tampa Bay. Markus Granlund was recalled from AHL Bakersfield in place of McDavid and the team will be able to add somebody else in place of Kassian. I imagine a depth veteran like Brad Malone would be next in line to get the call from Bakersfield.
9. Kassian had been playing on the team’s third line alongside Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan, which opens up a spot for Benson to slot into the lineup with them. Back when Benson was originally called up, the argument was whether he should play on the top line with McDavid or on the third line with Sheahan and Archibald. Now seems like an ideal time to insert him into that role to inject some offence into the bottom-six. Of course, Granlund would be the safe option to plug into that role.
10. Courtesy of Gregor, here is the Oilers’ scoring last year compared to this season, though 57 games, as well as the Panthers’ scoring.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
11. Gregor added, the Panthers goal production from the blue line is a bit skewed because Mark Pysyk and Mike Matheson have played forward recently. Pysyk had a hat-trick playing forward. They have both been quite productive up front. Pysyk still takes a few shifts on D on the PK, but has been a regular forward lately.